China Launches First Space Lab Module

Successful blast-off is a step toward China's permanent space station

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China's space program took a big step forward yesterday with the successful launch of a space lab module, the Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace-1.

The unmanned capsule was carried into orbit by a Long March-2FT1 rocket that blasted off at 9:16 pm Beijing time. The Tiangong-1 will orbit for about a month before the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft comes calling. China's ground-based mission control will practice the rendezvous and docking procedures using the unmanned spacecraft and the module. Then, in the next couple of years, the Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 are expected to carry astronauts up to perfect the docking procedures and let astronauts experience life in orbit. 

Here's a video of the launch:

Xinhua news service explains that this module isn't intended to be a permanent space station:

The 8.5-ton module is to stay aloft for two years, after which two other experimental modules are to be launched for additional tests before the actual station is launched in three sections between 2020 and 2022.

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Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.

NASA

For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals its first images on 12 July, they will be the by-product of carefully crafted mirrors and scientific instruments. But all of its data-collecting prowess would be moot without the spacecraft’s communications subsystem.

The Webb’s comms aren’t flashy. Rather, the data and communication systems are designed to be incredibly, unquestionably dependable and reliable. And while some aspects of them are relatively new—it’s the first mission to use Ka-band frequencies for such high data rates so far from Earth, for example—above all else, JWST’s comms provide the foundation upon which JWST’s scientific endeavors sit.

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